EXPLAINER: How South Carolina execution firing squad works

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It’s unknown how lengthy a keep will maintain off the execution of Richard Bernard Moore — South Carolina’s first-ever inmate to be put to loss of life by a firing squad — as his attorneys pursue authorized challenges.

But the issuance of Moore’s loss of life warrant, initially deliberate to be carried out April 29, has renewed curiosity in how a state places in movement its plans to shoot an inmate to loss of life. The methodology is employed in solely a handful of states and has not been used within the U.S. in additional than a decade.

South Carolina simply instituted the firing squad choice final 12 months, giving condemned inmates the selection between that and electrocution, prompted by an incapability to obtain deadly injection medicine.

In choosing the firing squad, the 57-year-old Moore mentioned he didn’t concede that both methodology was authorized or constitutional however that he extra strongly opposed loss of life by electrocution and solely opted for the firing squad as a result of he was required to select.

Moore drew the loss of life sentence for the 1999 killing of comfort retailer clerk James Mahoney in Spartanburg. Planning to rob the shop for cash to assist his cocaine behavior, investigators have mentioned that Mahoney pulled a gun, which Moore was capable of wrestle away and use to shoot the clerk.

A May 13 execution date has additionally been set for an additional inmate, Brad Sigmon, though a state decide is inspecting his authorized argument that each electrocution and the firing squad are “barbaric” strategies of killing.

Only three executions within the United States have been carried out by firing squad since 1976, in line with the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. Moore’s would mark the primary since Ronnie Lee Gardner ’s 2010 execution by a five-person firing squad in Utah.


South Carolina — as soon as dwelling to one of many busiest loss of life chambers within the nation — has been unable to hold out any execution since 2011, an involuntary pause that officers have attributed to the state’s inability to procure the trifecta of medicine wanted to hold out a deadly injection. Condemned inmates had the selection between injection and electrocution, that means that choosing the previous would in essence go away the state unable to hold out the sentence.

For a number of years, lawmakers have mulled including the firing squad as an choice to permitted strategies, however debate by no means superior. Last 12 months, Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian and GOP Sen. Greg Hembree, each of whom beforehand served as prosecutors, once more argued in favor of adding the firing squad option.

“The loss of life penalty goes to remain the regulation right here for some time. If it’ll stay, it must be humane,” Harpootlian mentioned, positing that the firing squad offered a extra humane various than electrocution, if executions had been to proceed within the GOP-dominated state.

The measure, which Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed into regulation final May, made South Carolina the fourth state within the nation to permit use of a firing squad, in line with the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.


Since the invoice’s passage, the South Carolina Department of Corrections labored at retrofitting its current loss of life chamber in Columbia — the place executions by deadly injection and electrocution have been carried out for greater than 30 years — to accommodate the wants of a firing squad.

The company spent $53,600 in state funding on renovations, together with the set up of bullet-resistant glass between the loss of life chamber and witnesses, in addition to a steel chair into which the inmate shall be strapped. They additionally lower into the brick wall of the chamber to make an aperture by way of which the three shooters — all volunteer staff from the Corrections Department — will thread their weapons, all loaded with reside ammunition.

The aperture is 15 toes from the condemned, located in a nook of the room, according to a memo released last month by the prisons company. While the inmate shall be seen to witnesses, officers mentioned that the shooters and their weapons won’t.

The electrical chair, which officers say can’t be faraway from the chamber, shall be lined in its spot between the glass wall and the firing squad chair.

After a chance to make a closing assertion, the inmate shall be strapped into the chair and a hood positioned over his head. An execution group member will place a “small goal level” over the inmate’s coronary heart.

After the warden reads the execution order, officers mentioned the group will fireplace. The company has not specified what caliber rifles the volunteer shooters will use, nor particulars of the “sure {qualifications}” they are going to be required to have met.


Aside from the state officers within the chamber to hold out the execution, three media witnesses might attend the execution, in addition to three witnesses from the sufferer’s household, in line with the Corrections Department.

State regulation additionally permits spiritual and authorized counsel for the inmate, in addition to representatives from regulation enforcement and native prosecutors.


As is normal with all South Carolina executions, a doctor will look at the inmate and make a loss of life declaration. A photograph launched by Corrections officers reveals a lipped steel basin beneath the inmate chair, in addition to an oblong field immediately behind it, doubtlessly to soak up the gunfire.

Immediately thereafter, the witnesses shall be escorted from the room and brought to the Corrections headquarters constructing, the place different media shall be gathered.

Out of sight of the witnesses, the inmate’s physique is faraway from the chamber and brought by the Richland County Coroner’s Office for an post-mortem earlier than being returned to the inmate’s household.


Meg Kinnard might be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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